Jack

   In Britain, and also in Canada, the USA, and Australia, 'Jack' is the name routinely used in *fairytales for a resourceful, lucky hero, who may also sometimes be unscrupulous or a trickster. Henry Mayhew in his London Labour and the London Poor ((1861), iii. 189-90) describes how a 16-year-old boy in a London workhouse told him a story he called 'Clever Jack', about the exploits of a daring and witty young robber who outwitted various rich gentlemen and a parson. The boy said men in the casual ward of the workhouse sometimes took turns telling stories: 'romantic tales, some; others blackguard kind of tales, about thieving and roguery; not so much about what they'd done themselves, as about some big thief that was very clever at stealing, and could trick anybody. Not stories such as Dick Turpin or Jack Sheppard or things that's in history, but inventions.' The boy added that 'the best man in the story is always called Jack'.
   The name has long been used with the implication 'typical (young) man', from nursery-rhyme characters to 'Jack Tar' for a sailor, and modern slang phrases like 'I'm all right, Jack' and 'Jack-the-lad'. The murderer who called himself 'Jack the Ripper' had a sinister sense of humour.
   Several English tales with a 'Jack' as hero were collected in the 19th century, and others in the 20th century from Gypsies (Briggs, 1970-1: A. i. 322-5; Philip, 1992: 18-42, 54, 127-32). For Canadian examples, derived from British and Irish tradition, see Herbert Halpert and J. D. A. Widdowson, The Folktales of Newfoundland (1996).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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